Farewell to the World: A History of Suicide
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What drives a person to take his or her own life? Why would an individual be willing to strap a bomb to himself and walk into a crowded marketplace, blowing himself up at the same time as he kills and maims the people around him? Does suicide or ‘voluntary death’ have the same meaning today as it had in earlier centuries, and does it have the same significance in China, India and the Middle East as it has in the West? How should we understand this distressing, often puzzling phenomenon and how can we explain its patterns and variations over time?
In this wide-ranging comparative study, Barbagli examines suicide as a socio-cultural, religious and political phenomenon, exploring the reasons that underlie it and the meanings it has acquired in different cultures throughout the world. Drawing on a vast body of research carried out by historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists and psychologists, Barbagli shows that a satisfactory theory of suicide cannot limit itself to considering the two causes that were highlighted by the great French sociologist Émile Durkheim – namely, social integration and regulation. Barbagli proposes a new account of suicide that links the motives for and significance attributed to individual actions with the people for whom and against whom individuals take their lives.
This new study of suicide sheds fresh light on the cultural differences between East and West and greatly increases our understanding of an often-misunderstood act. It will be the definitive history of suicide for many years to come.
another French sociologist, Maurice Halbwachs, came to a different conclusion. The data showed that suicide rates rose only in years of economic depression, not in those of expansion.207 In his view, this meant that the impact of the economic cycle was unrelated to a growth in anomie. The economic history of twentieth-century Europe appears to prove Halbwachs’ thesis. The crash of the New York stock market in October 1929 marked the start of the worst crisis experienced by Western countries.
the desire to revenge the insults and assaults of Indian soldiers who, according to unverified rumours, had raped her or her mother, killed one of her brothers and wrecked her home. Yet she also acted out of a sense of duty, for a greater, collective cause, to aid her own people, the Hindu Tamils, to found an independent state in the northeastern part of Sri Lanka. She was entrusted with this mission by the Tamil Tigers, the organization that, from the mid 1970s, had fought to free their people
the Orthodox church in Moscow. As well as seeing themselves as upholding the authentic values of their country’s religious tradition, they were convinced that the end of the world was at hand and could be accelerated by their purifying sacrifice. Therefore, when they were attacked by the militia, many took their own lives.14 These were dramatic but isolated explosions and they did not mark the start of the great wave of voluntary deaths given that even throughout the nineteenth century suicide
1824 to 1838.3 The first statistics relating to the entire country date from 1864.4 To start with, these figures (and those concerning violent deaths in general) were collected by very different official bodies, depending on the country: in some it was the church, in others the courts, the health authorities, or the registrars.5 In Sweden and Norway, for example, details of violent deaths were initially collected and transmitted by pastors. In Austria, too, responsibility for collecting these
heart, and searcheth every vaine’, robbing all strength and capacity to resist.224 Whoever listens to Despaire is lost, not unlike those who were seduced by other great mythical figures of temptation, like the Serpent and the sirens. Trevisan’s friend, suffering from unrequited love, promptly killed himself, urged on by the persuasive words of this dangerous character, and having witnessed this event Sir Trevisan flees, having struggled to tear himself away from the insidious fascination of